Bonum Certa Men Certa

Be Careful Who You Trust (on Document Standards)

A possible disinformation campaign is observed

Yesterday we published a quick post just to point out the not-so-obvious. We warned readers about Microsoft's systematic denials and attempts to rewrite history. It's not a new tactic, but it appears to be repeating itself and making a comeback (assuming there was ever a cessation), so prudent bystanders are right to be cautious. Courtesy of some findings from Groklaw, we bring you the latest things that you ought to be aware of (some are new, but some are just very recent).



In a sarcastic fashion we recently wrote about "Agent Alex" [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21] and "Agent Patrick" [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]. It's not our own convictions, but a collection of others' who feel similarly. It's about influence that Microsoft apparently gains inside circles that instruct and make decisions. Remember Tim Bray's story.

One nugget of information that we almost missed entirely last week is this (Ed's note: this is not Peter Brown of the FSF):

I found it quite disturbing that Peter Brown, one of the members of the board of directors of the OASIS, was basically saying that multiple standards were a good thing and that it had always work out like that. Then he basically questioned the whole concept of open standards, and in doing so made the point right that coining the term “openness” for everything was diluting the value of that notion. To make a long discussion a short one, Peter Brown’s point was that nothing should change in terms of standardization processes, and that it was not even worth a try, and in trying to convince the audience he used the good old allegory of the plugs and their different formats depending on the country and continent. Apparently not for Mr. Brown who thinks it will always be that way, and that somehow, somehow, it is useless to design too many standards (note the incoherence with his first concept) , because in the end, well, it’s useless. I also noticed that Mr Brown, who sits at the board of directors of an SDO (Standards Development Organization) that fosters the development of many Royalty -Free standards such as ODF, declared that it would be nice to “have all kinds of open standards that come with a Royalty -Free Intellectual Property mode” and “all kinds of open source implementations that will always be free for everybody” practiced some irony that I cannot enjoy as it simply shows a deep misunderstanding of the relationship between FOSS and Open Standards, and more generally, an ignorance of the concept of freedom and the absence of monetary value of software and information.


Peter Brown might be another character worth keeping an eye on.

Moving on to Patrick Durusau who, according to Open Malaysia, can say the darnest things at the worst of times, mind the opening of his latest letter [PDF] that essnetially protests against the appeal (yes, believe it or not). It reads: "Appealing ISO/IEC 29500 will not benefit anyone, no matter how the appeal turns out."

A satirical translation of the above would be : "Appeals against a corrupt process are just a waste of time. Let the corruption just be." Pardon what seems like an impolite response, but when someone sidles with (or buries) the sheer corruption we have witnessed, there is little room for sympathy. In fact, be reminded of what Open Malaysia said just days ago:

"Every single negative letter on ODF received by the Malaysian standards organization was written either by Microsoft, or a Microsoft business partner or a Microsoft affiliated organization (Initiative for Software Choice and IASA)."

A Memo to Patrick Durusau



To add more to this little fire:

"37 letters with exactly the same words. Some of the senders didn't even care to remove the 'Type company name here' text.
Simular letters has been circulating in Denmark as an e-mail from the Danish MD Jørgen Bardenfleth to customers and business partners.
I call it fraud, cheating and disgusting. If I wasn't anti-Microsoft before, I am now. Disgusting !"

--Leif Lodahl



Here is a slightly older rebuttal that addresses Patrick Durusau's point-of-view, which seems to align with that of Peter Brown.

Patrick’s logic, if not his argument, is based on the idea that the problems that keep FOSS software from including such standards (usually royalty-based), is their own problem, and not the concern of the ISO or any standards body. Basically, if you want to give your software away, then that is your problem, everyone else has wizened up to the idea of charging for software, and paying royalties for standards, why don’t you?

Patrick states that “Microsoft has no obligation to make OpenXML implementable under GPL,” which is a true statement. However, since OpenXML is not implementable under any FOSS software license, isn’t it something the ISO should have considered when approving a standard?

Thanks Patrick, thanks a lot.


This is a very disturbing observation given that Sun Microsystems makes a transition to an open source strategy (including the GPL) while employing this guy who tolerates deliberate exclusion of the GPL. It's an anti-competitive move against Microsoft's #1 threat.

Getting back to Durusau's latest letter, does he not not feel shy in the face of 4 countries that appealed, including the world's second- and third-largest nations? Does he know better than them? As the following new article from South Africa shows, it goes deeper than "appealing ISO/IEC 29500 will not benefit anyone." It's about the right to compete and not be dependent, especially if you live outside the country where Durusau resides.

Emerging markets back SA [South Africa]



[...]

“Emerging markets are showing strength, and we are proud that SA was the leader in the appeal initiative. The emerging markets represent the majority of the world's population, and the ISO is now at a crossroads,” says Shuttleworth Foundation fellow Andrew Rens.

He says the ISO will have to make a decision to either stand firm, or support the appeals of the emerging markets. “If they decide to be objective and independent, they will have the backing of all those who are following the appeal process, and several others over and above that.”

[...]

“It will be extraordinary if the secretary-general does not allow the appeals to go through. It would put the ISO in disrepute,” says Rens.

He says the backing of Venezuela, India and Brazil are critical for SA. “The number of countries appealing makes our concerns valid. It shows that we were right to appeal.”


Let the following photo remind you of the role of geography in this debate.

OOXML protests in India
From the Campaign for Document Freedom



You may think that South Africa's press quoting the Shuttleworth Foundation is no credible thing. But if you want to see something ugly, here is a pro-Microsoft article from India that seemingly just attacks the stance of professors who complained (and eloquently explained) what Microsoft did to them. The article puts in scare quotes their 'problems' and indirectly accuses them of ruining India's industrial image (or "shooting itself in the foot," as the headline dramatically states).

“To Microsoft and its business partners, there's a lot of money at stake.”Like many such articles, it selectively weaves Microsoft's 'taking heads' quotes in (Burton Group, Microsoft employees and so forth). Had we known more about the reputation (or lack thereof) of this media source, we would be able to tell if it's merely a 'plug' in the media. It sure happens a lot in the west. We saw similar accusations about parts of the Filipino press too. As stated in the IRC channels a short while ago, "It's less of an article and more of a protest on behalf of Microsoft. The language is disrespectful in places." It's brainwash at best.

Speaking of disinformation, Google News is still filled with some. People have complained on the face of it, but Google is not responsive. Microsoft et al may have gamed the ODF ("opendocument") feeds for over a year, or so one professor believes. Lots of anti-ODF articles made it in while others were missed, left out.

We wrote about it several times before and offered some evidence. Another person who was in touch at the time complained to Google and also warned friends of his who work there that by recruiting ex-Softies they 'poison' themselves (manual intervention and tweaking seems involved with SERPs).

It all comes back to the seminal point of this post: be careful what you read and whom you trust. To Microsoft and its business partners, there's a lot of money at stake. A lot. The cost of fines and public embarrassment is relatively low. Disinformation is inexpensive and FUD too is a question of economics, as Jim Zemlin emphasised last year.

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